[AI] Disability and Census of 2011

Shadab Husain shadabhsn at gmail.com
Wed Jun 23 00:04:48 EDT 2010

Disability and Census of 2011

Kamal Bakshi

Counting the “invisible” children of Mother India.

While the current focus of political debate is on ‘caste and census,'
there is another important aspect that deserves attention. This
concerns disability.

For decades after our independence, there was no effort to actually
count how many of us have any disability. There were estimates-
informed or otherwise- but no factual figures. All our government's
plans and budgets, rules and regulations, proclamations and posturing
were built upon shaky foundations. A new Ministry was created, staffed
and has been operating for several decades on that basis. It seemed to
suit every one, except the millions who were thus rendered

This lasted for 54 years. But, despite their ‘invisibility,' the
disabled and the NGOs dealing with disability made progress on the

Let me illustrate with an example. There was no government or
non-government organisation looking after the needs of children with
cerebral palsy, till a young mother of a child with cerebral palsy set
up the very first Spastics Society of India, Mumbai (now known as
ADAPT-Able Disabled All People Together)) in 1972. The handful of
children included her own daughter. Dr. Mithu Alur, our Chairperson,
had thus created a unique institution, offering all facilities under
one roof, including diagnosis, physiotherapy, physical aids,
schooling, parental counselling, etc. Over time, these services also
came to include research, teachers training, admission of older
children in “normal” schools and colleges, job-oriented training and
placements and so on. This model is now replicated in 18 States.
Almost all the organisers have themselves been trained at Mumbai.
These NGOs operate independently, while forming a Regional Alliance,
constantly coordinating, cooperating and learning from one another.

During preparations for the Census of 2001, several NGOs (including
us) approached the Census Commission with the request that they should
also count the disabled in our country. Obvious arguments were put
forward. Approaches were also made through the concerned departments
of the Government. Unfortunately, nothing worked; we were simply told
that the disabled could not be included. The NGOs were persistent; the
matter was taken to the political level. Eventually, it was decided
that the Census would include, for the very first time, a counting of
the disabled.

However, this historic decision was taken at a very late stage, in the
face of consistent opposition by the Census Establishment. Perhaps,
their subsequent actions were reluctant and grudging. Perhaps, there
was not enough time for the necessary preparations. It is also
possible that, despite their best efforts, framing of appropriate
questions, their translation into the required languages, training of
the enumerators etc. left much to be desired. For all these reasons,
the results of the Census 2001 were deeply disappointing for the
disability movement.

For example, the Census of 2001 concluded that there were only 2.13 %
or 21 million Indians with any kind of disability. This was a fraction
of the estimates by most experts. This has since been amply proved by
a World Bank report of 2007.

This report was “prepared at the request of the Government of India”.
In fact, it acknowledges “the guidance of officials of the Ministry of
Social Justice and Empowerment, guidance provided by an
inter-ministerial Technical Advisory Group set up for the work by
MOSJE and consisting of representatives from the Ministries of Health,
Labour, Human Resource Development and Rural development, as well as
an NGO representative.” Similarly, it acknowledges the help of
officials in several States including Rajasthan, Karnataka, Orissa,
Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. In short, the World Bank Team had the
full backing and support of the Government of India and many State

The report is entitled ‘People with Disabilities in India: From
Commitments to Outcomes'. It concludes:

“While estimates vary, there is growing evidence that people with
disabilities comprise between 4 and 8 per cent of the India population
(around 40-90 million individuals)”

Obviously, there is a vast difference between 2.13 per cent or 21
million ‘counted' by the Census of India, and 4-8 per cent or 40-90
million estimated by the World Bank team.

Several NGOs, including ADAPT, have been interacting with the Census
Commission, individually or in groups. The Commissioner, Dr. C.
Chandramauli, has been positive and open-minded. In a recent letter to
him, based on our own experience, and consultations with our regional
partners and other experts, we have made a number of recommendations.
These take into account the Commission's constraints of space and
format, the work already done, and recommendations made by others in
the disability movement, like a Delhi-based group which had also held
wide consultations. For example, along with the Delhi group, we have
endorsed the inclusion of four types of disability in seeing, hearing,
speech and movement, repeated from the 2001 census. We have also
endorsed the recommended inclusion of Multiple Disability and Mental
Retardation. But, since the latter expression is no longer used, we
propose “Remembering and Concentration” instead. Thus, there is
already an agreement on the types of disability.

Equally important is the framing of questions under each type.
Questions must be activity related; these must also be relevant to our
circumstances; only then can these elicit accurate responses. For
example, the question suggested by us on speech is: “Do you have
difficulty in speaking in your usual language?” The latter language is
included because, in the course of a research study with UNICEF
involving 31,000 children, we had found that children who had migrated
out of their home states had a linguistic problem, which may be
reflected as a speech problem. We have also submitted Hindi
translations of these easy-to- understand questions to demonstrate
that similar translations in other languages could be equally easy and

Contrary to speculations, there is thus a growing meeting of minds
between the Census Commission, on the one hand, and several sections
of the disability movement, on the other. Thus, we can hope that the
Census of 2011 will finally be able to give us a correct count of the
disabled in our country, making them truly visible.

( A former ambassador, Kamal Bakshi is Vice-Chairperson of ADAPT, Mumbai.)


Easy tips for improving English at
My contributions to the press
Shadab Husain interviews Danny Bloom
Many posts on one page

More information about the AccessIndia mailing list